Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mommy Files: It’s Time to Speak Out about the ‘G’ Word

Wait a minute. Did she just say my son looked gay?

That’s what ran through my mind after a comment from an elderly acquaintance. I was dressing my 3-year-old son in his Navy blue pea coat after a Thanksgiving luncheon at the YMCA. On his head I placed the red and black fleece hat that covers his ears, topped with a tassel made of fleece strips. That’s when the woman said, about his winter get-up, “If I’d put that on my sons, they would have told me ‘That looks gay, Mom’.” Perhaps noticing the stunned look on my face, she quickly added, “I like that coat, and the hat, too.”

I just answered, “They shouldn’t talk like that.”

She was in her 70s, and explained that her sons were in their 50s now, as if that made it OK. Yes, they’d grown up decades before the advent of sensitivity to lesbian and gay issues, but I still don’t buy that as an excuse. My parents don’t talk that way, and they both turned 70 this year. They learned to respect other people. It might sound harsh, but I believe this woman has herself to blame for her son’s attitudes. Children learn what they hear. More importantly, they learn from silence, just as much as from what’s spoken.

This incident came on top of another disturbing incident. A classmate from my water aerobics class told me her grandson, who is just starting school, complained to his mother that the other boys called him a “Tinkerbell” because he speaks proper English. Who is teaching these kids that it’s all right to call people who are different “gay”? And why isn’t anyone telling them it’s not OK?

I remember being a camp counselor at a summer camp affiliated with the United Church of Christ back in the 1980s. Some campers seemed to think that calling something you didn’t like — or someone who was different — “gay” was absolutely acceptable. After all, it wasn’t considered swearing and it wasn’t regarded as being as offensive as a variety of other epithets. Long before the current growth in awareness about the topic, I used to pull kids aside and tell them that it was not appropriate to call other kids that name, that it was hurtful because it singled them out for being different. I also added that there’s nothing wrong with being gay, if you are, and that using the word as an insult implies that it is a bad thing.

I don’t know if I made any difference in those kids’ lives, but I hope I did. I know how impressionable I was when I was younger, and I know how much it impacted me when adults called me to task for my language or behavior. I’d love to think that my words made them think about, and better yet, change their behavior, and maybe even pass along what they’d learned. 

If we want kids to stop insulting each other using the term “gay,” we’ve got to come off the sidelines.  We can’t excuse it by saying “boys will be boys.” That means speaking out, whether it’s your kids or someone else’s. I firmly believe that, and I have been practicing that tactic for many years now.

We will never be able to stop kids from teasing each other or calling each other names. But if we all speak out against this particularly virulent kind of name calling, hopefully we can make it as unacceptable to call someone the “G” word as to call someone the “N” word.

Let’s take a stand and change the language on the playground.

KFP flies "like the birds" on a swing.
My son flies “like the birds” on a swing

My Other Baby

The same year I gave birth to my bright, energetic Kung Fu Panda, I birthed another “baby”: my book of essays and columns, The Art of Life. The collection features the best of more than a decade’s worth of newspaper columns and online writings. In it, I examine pop culture, ponder the inner thoughts of dogs, and share insights into the beauty and humor of life.

When the book was fresh and new — in its figurative crib — I was making my bleary-eyed way through Baby Boot Camp. A few half-hearted attempts to promote the book among friends and through a handful of readings assured me that people who did read it liked it. The problem was, I lacked the time and energy to bring the book to a wider audience. Since I’d opted to self-publish the eclectic collection, I was the only one out there promoting it. As a result, I guess you could say my literary baby suffered from the condition doctors call “failure to thrive.” If it were human, they would have prescribed protein supplements and frequent follow-up doctor’s visits.

But now that KFP is in preschool — and now that I’m finally back to at least my normal amount of limited sleep — I’m going to give it another shot. For this weekend (today through Tuesday, November 12), I’m holding a free promotion of the Kindle version of The Art of Life. Stop by, pick up a copy, and tell your friends. (And if you don’t have a Kindle device, download the free app for use on PCs or smart phones.)

In these digital days, you probably won’t bother to print out any of these pieces to hang on your refrigerator, but I guarantee you’ll find something that will make you smile, ponder and even want to share it.

(And if you do, please write a quick review on Amazon, Goodreads and any other book review site, as a thank you for the free read!)

Philcon Schedule

I've received my official Philcon schedule and am on two panels this year and am officially the moderator of one of them (huzzah!). Check it out:

Sat 6:00 PM in Crystal Ballroom Two (1 hour)

[Panelists: Alyce Wilson (mod), Alex Shvartsman, David Sklar, D.L. Carter, Thomas Willeford]

How do you become a full time writer? Is that a good idea for you?

Sun 10:00 AM in Plaza III (Three) (1 hour)

[Panelists: KT Pinto (mod), Christine Norris, Alyce Wilson, D.H. Aire]

Whenever a writer is on Facebook, he or she is not working on their writing. What are the potential advantages and distractions of social media?

So my questions to you: What information would you like to hear on these two panels if you were attending? And do you have any insights that might be useful (such as specific books or online resources) to share?

The (Not So) Exciting Conclusion of Woofus

Over the past two weeks, I introduced you to a justifiably overlooked children’s book, Woofus, published in 1944. I acquired the book from my dad, and it was one of his childhood books. In last week’s installment, the second section showed us that what initially seemed to be accidental racism might in fact be a wee bit intentional. That is, unless naming a black cat “Tar Baby” was considered perfectly acceptable in 1944.

Then again, this was the same society that, as chronicled in the James Lilek book, Mommy Knows Worse, thought that placing babies in cage-like cribs suspended outside windows was a great way to get them fresh air.

Now, in this final installment, the chronicle of Woofus concludes (in both dramatic and anticlimactic fashion).

Mom takes a very upsetting phone call

In the story so far, Woofus was born black and “woolly” to a litter full of golden-brown pups. Since no one wanted him, the family was unable to give him away, and he became their favorite object of ridicule. (It has just occurred to me that Woofus lacks a mother, implying that she was given away along with the puppies, perhaps because she had transgressed the puppy code by giving birth to a “funny-looking” dog.)

While on a pic-nic in the woods, Woofus finds a lonely black kitten, who is adopted by the family and then dubbed Tar Baby, presumably so it wouldn’t get too uppity.

As the third act begins, the author laments, “But poor Woofus! He forgot that he must be a good dog.” A neighbor, Mrs. Jones, calls to complain that “Woofus has ruined my vegetable garden.” Mother expresses disbelief, but Mrs. Jones is sure it is “Woofus and no other dog.” Because only black, woolly dogs would ruin a vegetable garden.

Mother’s chestnut-brown eyes grow extremely wide at this news, and even the bow on the back of her apron stands up in alarm.

Mrs. Jones rats out Woofus

Nosy Mrs. Jones has company. The same afternoon, Mrs. Smith calls to inform Mother that Woofus has “pulled her clean clothes off the line and dragged them in the dirt.” Again, Mother expresses disbelief, but Mrs. Smith says she is certain. As evidenced from the illustration, she gets a lot of pleasure from relaying this information. No doubt, she’s just looking for an excuse to use her old-fashioned phone, which hasn’t been ringing much lately. In all likelihood, she doesn’t even have a clothes line.

Woofus knows he is a bad, bad dog

So the entire family takes turns scolding Woofus: first Bobbie, then Jean, then Mother and Daddy. This is, after all, what passes for entertainment in this family. Woofus hangs his head in shame and repeats his mantra: “I am a big dog and a woolly dog. I am a smart dog. I must be a good dog. I must be a brave dog, too.”

Clearly, he believes in the power of positive affirmations. Stuart Smalley would be proud.

Tar Baby looks pathetic

The next afternoon, the family discovers that Woofus is missing. Only Tar Baby is sitting in the kennel yard “all alone and not purring nor looking very happy.” Woofus doesn’t come home for dinner, and the family is sad. Hmm. I can’t imagine why Woofus would be staying away from them, after being yelled at by all four family members without any clear idea of what he’d done wrong. I mean, he came home after a fun day of digging and laundry snatching, and they yelled at him for just walking into the yard!

At this point in the book, I began to suspect that the writer and illustrator had worked completely independently. I believe the process worked like this: The illustrator brought in a portfolio of watercolors showing a family and their two pets. The publishing house liked the work, but especially liked the fact that the artist was willing to sell them the whole package for nearly nothing. They then commissioned a writer to look at the illustrations and turn them into a story. “I know these pictures are a little dull, so use your words to make the story exciting,” they said. “And add just a hint of racism. Children like that.”

The family eats dinner

The family is eating dinner when the telephone rings again. Mother answers it (since answering a phone is, of course, women’s work and she was already up from the table, serving everybody seconds while her own plate of soup sits untouched at her place). She comes back and reports cheerfully that “Tommy Jones fell in the creek and Woofus jumped in and pulled him out and saved him. So Mrs. Jones is not angry about her vegetable garden any more.” You would think that such an exciting scene would have made a better illustration than a view of the family eating tomato soup and mini quiches. But you are not a publisher sitting on a portfolio of generic family illustrations.

Jean is so happy to hear the news that her delight shows in her bright blue eyes. She tries hard not to think about the fact that both her mommy and daddy have brown eyes. Bobbie keeps telling her she’s adopted, but Bobbie is wrong. She resolves to take out her frustration on Woofus when he comes home later.

Mother, Jean and Bobbie stare out the window

Just as the family returns to eating their dinner, the phone rings again. This time it is Mrs. Smith. Mother reports, “She says Woofus is a very brave dog to rescue Tommy Jones from the creek. She is not angry about her wash being pulled off the line now.”

Bobbie and Jean say in unison, “I wish Woofus would come home.” Mother, Jean and Bobbie look out the window eagerly. You can tell from their expressions that something very exciting is happening out there. Don’t you wish you could see it, too?

Woofus bounds happily home

Quite proud of himself, Woofus bounds happily home, watched by a slightly anthropomorphic rabbit with large eyes.

Woofus is given a big bone for his bravery. In deference, Tar Baby doesn’t “try to even get a smell of it” but just sits, watching Woofus and purring. Of course, kittens don’t normally gnaw on giant bones, but don’t let that intrude with your enjoyment of the story.

Bobbie and Jean come down to the kennel and finally give Woofus the acceptance he’s been seeking, telling him “what a good, brave dog” he is and how proud they are to have him.

In his funny dog-talk, he responds, “Woof-woof — woof. Woof-woof.”

Woofus gets his happy ending

On the final page, the author translates his message. In dog language, we’re told, that means, “I am a big dog and I am a woolly dog. I am a smart dog and I try to be a good dog. Now I know I am a brave dog.” Woofus chews on his very special big bone, as the children regard him from a safe distance.

He might be a brave dog, and they’re happy to have him in the family, but they still wouldn’t dream of petting him.


And now you have had the same reaction that literally dozens of children had in the late 1940s, when given this book by their well-meaning aunts: unblinking silence.

Sure enough, the next night at bedtime, the little kids were clamoring for a bedtime book. “Mommy, could you read me Pat the Bunny again?”

Poor Woofus.